Interview with Days Gone Open World Designer Philip Wilson

The world of Days Gone was carefully crafted by Bend Studio. From beautiful vast landscapes of lush forests and snowy mountains, to the dark pockets of the apocalyptic world with infested caves, abandoned vehicles and rundown buildings. Each piece of the environmental puzzle is there for a reason, to provide the player with a sense of reality and immerse you in the journey of Deacon St. John. Open world games are filled with activities, encounters and stories to explore making it easy for a player to sink in hundreds of hours into a game. What goes through the mind of a designer when creating some of these gameplay moments?

I had the pleasure to ask Open World Designer Philip Wilson some of my lingering questions about his role in Days Gone. Philip has worked at Bend Studio for over 14 years where he started his career as a QA Contractor on Syphon Filter: Combat Ops. From there, he went on to work as a QA on multiple games including Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow, Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror, Resistance: Retribution and Uncharted: Golden Abyss. In 2015, Philip began his role as a designer on the large and ambitious world of Days Gone. Philip shares with us the things he worked on in Days Gone, his process on designing them, tips to achieve gold in the challenge he created and more.

The Broken Road: Let us begin by understanding your role as an Open World Designer for Days
Gone. At Bend Studio, what would a normal day look like for you during the development process? What were your primary duties in Days Gone?

Philip Wilson: In Days Gone I was in charge of creating the Ambush Camps, Enemy Camp Jobs, and some of the early Boozer missions like getting Boozer some meat. I put together logic for some of the events you see in the world while driving around in the open world. I also worked on the guitarist in the Lost Lake encampment.

Typically a normal day would start out with me checking for any new issues that might have come up from the testers in Quality Assurance. After that I would focus as much as possible on making sure everything was functioning as expected when running through the camps. Most days would have some unexpected surprises but that is what makes game development so fun and exciting.

When designing the ambush camps, what are the top priorities you focus on? What do you hope to accomplish for the player in each one?

When creating the Ambush Camps I would work very closely with the Environment Art team on creating the layout of the camp. We needed to make them fit into the environment and support the combat gameplay that we were going for in the camps. My top priority when creating Ambush Camps was to support each player’s play style, whether you come in guns blazing or decide to take it slow and sneaky. I also really wanted to allow the player to drag hordes or other enemies into the camps and have them work properly. Letting the player approach the camps on their own terms was always really important. I also wanted to create some surprising experiences, a few of the camps have some hordes nearby that like to get involved if you get too noisy.

Out of the 14 ambush camps scattered across the map, do you have a personal favorite one you designed?

While I do like them all for different reasons, I think that my favorite is probably the Belknap Caves camp. It has a little horde sleeping in a cave below and the camp itself is on a huge rock pillar. That one can be a bit of surprise if the horde comes out after going loud. It is a pretty small horde but it can be a lot if you aren’t really prepared for it. There are also lots of bear traps in that camp which can catch you by surprise. Actually there is a bear trap that I placed that our Lead Open World Designer Eric Jensen stepped on whenever testing out the changes in that camp. I ended up naming it “Eric’s Bear Trap” and it still exists in that camp to this day. Another favorite is the Spruce Lake Ambush Camp. That one is both a NERO Checkpoint and an Ambush Camp. There is also a horde sleeping that wakes up if you are too loud. You can actually clear the camp without waking up the horde if you are quiet enough.

Belknap Caves Camp

Was there anything you wanted to implement in the camps early on in development that did not make it into the final game?

The first thing to come to mind was a dynamic campfire that I had early on in development that any NPC could use. This would be a campfire that existed in the camp that would be off during the daytime but when nighttime happened they would go over to the campfire, light the fire, then sit down next to it. They would also stoke the fire periodically as the flames would start to die after a little while. The problem is that it created an inconsistent messaging about the camps as it was harder to tell if they were active or not when approaching them so the decision was made to keep the fires on all the time.

You also created the Ambush Camp Rush challenge, which tested a player’s skill by taking out a camp as fast as possible. This is the ultimate camp with well-armed patrols, traps and a timer. When designing a challenge like this, how much trial and error goes into it until it feels fun, rewarding and challenging all at the same time?

Lots and lots of trial and error. When putting the Ambush Camp Rush version together I just wanted to take a camp and turn everything in it up to 11. There are more enemies, all of them patrol all of the time and there are more traps laying around. The moment that you alert more than one of them you blow the possibility for clearing the whole camp with stealth. I had to make sure that the player had opportunities to actually kill the enemies without the whole camp noticing, that took a lot of trial and error.

Watching other people try to take it on was really important as well since everyone plays the game differently. Seeing what they struggled with and accounting for that was a big part of making the challenge. I wanted this challenge to feel possible for anyone after playing through it a few times and finding the items that more suit your playstyle. It’s worth it to go around the camp a few times to see what is there so you can best decide your route through the camp getting what you need to be successful.

For players still trying to achieve gold in the challenges, what is the best advice you can give them to succeed in Ambush Camp Rush?

There are basically two different approaches that I wanted to work to allow for a Gold in Ambush Camp Rush. I wanted to make it possible to get a gold in either stealth or if you wanted to go in and just shoot everyone. With that in mind I would suggest choosing the path that suits your style a bit more when going for the Gold score.

If you want to go for a stealth run I would suggest going for Gold in the Camp Ghost, Berserked, and Crafty Sub-Challenges. Getting gold in these alone will give you 20,000 points. I would suggest ignoring the time for the most part using this route (though it will give you more points if you go faster). Remember that if you defeat a berserked enemy with a trap it will count for both Crafty and Berserked. This path is not nearly as reliant on maintaining a combo but you will need to get some extra points when running around. I would suggest using the Vampire ring for this.

The loud path through the level I wanted to primarily focus on achieving a Gold in Quick and Painful while keeping a combo going and maybe getting a bronze in one of the other Sub-Challenges. You get combo for crafting items, picking up items, and getting kills. To help keep your combo up make sure to equip the Joker ring so that you can pick up items while sliding. It also help to have the Bullets ring equipped so you can
reload your weapon by rolling this should allow you to keep shooting instead of reloading. If you start running low on combo time make sure to craft some items to get it back up. The key to this method is to keep your combo up.

As a player yourself, are you a guns blazing type of guy or do you prefer the stealthy approach when entering enemy camps?

I always prefer to start with stealth. It’s more fun to me to pick off the enemies one by one. I also am a pretty big fan of bringing other enemy types into the camps when possible. This causes a bit of chaos that I can take advantage of. However, this rarely ever goes as planned. I usually end up setting off a traps in the camp so it tends to turn into a guns blazing playstyle but that isn’t typically my preferred approach. I do hold my own when it comes down to it though.

Whether it was during development or post-launch, what was your fondest memory with Days Gone?

There are a few moments like playing the game for the first time at home was really amazing. It was finally a real game that people could play and enjoy. Seeing my daughter’s name in the credits was really cool as well, she was born a few months before the game launched. But my favorite thing was seeing people react to the guitarist in the Lost Lake camp. The guitarist was always planned but how it was implemented changed later on in development. I had an idea of how it could work once we got all of the animations online and I got it implemented. I think that was one of the last things that I added to the game before it shipped out. Zander Reese really knocked the songs out of the park. I have a soft spot for the song “Mirrors”. Check out the camp guitarist every night at 7:00 PM at the Lost Lake encampment.

With Days Gone being included in the PS Plus Collection on the PlayStation 5, there will be even more players to ride the Broken Road for the first time. What are your best tips to survive in a world that always comes for you?

Enjoy your time out there in the Farewell Wilderness, at times it can be very dangerous and at other times very serene. If you find yourself getting ambushed too much make sure to take out the Ambush Camps. If you aren’t sure where they are just look for the smoke. If the ambushers don’t have a camp they won’t attack you nearly as often. Make sure to keep your bike full of gas as well. It is always better to top off the tank than to run out of gas while running from a horde.

Try Days Gone for free right now on PlayStation!

PlayStation 5 owners can play Days Gone with up to 60 FPS and Dynamic 4K through the PS Plus Collection for free with an active PS Plus subscription. If you’re on the PlayStation 4, Days Gone is still available to play on PS Now for a limited time until January 5, 2021. You can sign up for a free 7 day trial on PS Now to begin riding the broken road.

Days Gone is also part of the PlayStation Store’s Holiday Sale right now until January 8th with 50% off the standard edition!

One thought on “Interview with Days Gone Open World Designer Philip Wilson

  1. Hi there days gone has to be the best game out and would like for it to continue as days gone 2 if you guys can iv played it twice now and finished everything I rate the game 10 out of 10 thanks alot for a game were everything looks so realistic

    Liked by 1 person

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